03 Jan

In the Trump time, Oregon needs to remember who we are

It’s hard to remember a year that we were so relieved to see end.

Nor the start of a year that we were awaiting so nervously.

What we need, it seems, is a New Year’s Day that lasts indefinitely – a new beginning that just keeps beginning, instead of seeing what happens next.

The editors of the Merriam-Webster dictionary declared that the word of 2016, the word most often searched on-line, was “surreal.” The folks at the Oxford English Dictionary concluded the 2016 word was “post-truth.”

Nobody knows what the word of 2017 will be, but it will probably be in a tweet.

Out here on the edge of the continent, the new year arrives three hours later but with at least as much post-truth surrealism. West Coast citizens seem to see the world, and the coming year, differently from many of our fellow Americans – and the phrase “fellow Americans” may itself appear post-truth in 2017 – as the values that produced three Hillary Clinton landslides along the Pacific Coast are rejected at the borders of Washington, D.C.

Possibly by a big, beautiful wall.

At a time when freedom of expression is increasingly disdained in the new order, when the incoming president whips up audiences to jeer and scream insults at the newspeople covering his events and dreams of new libel laws to deal with insufficiently reverent coverage, Oregon’s Supreme Court says our state constitution locks in expanded protections for expression. This has made Oregon the strip club capital of the universe, but in the next four years it might be useful.

Back in Washington, D.C., the natural world is now viewed with suspicion except for the parts containing fossil fuels; the newly designated director of the Environmental Protection Agency has never met an environmental protection he didn’t want to sue. But possibly because we have an ocean next door, on the West Coast we have strong feelings about keeping the planet set up approximately as it is now. (Florida also has an ocean next door, but seems unworried about the likelihood of that ocean covering much of the state in the future, possibly because many Floridians don’t plan to live that long.) So we have our own efforts, among the three states and British Columbia, to try to keep the air breatheable and at a recognizable temperature level.

Officials of all three West Coast states have declared that regional efforts will continue even if the federal government tries to drill in any unoccupied space. California has recommitted itself to increasing the proportion of its energy produced by renewable fuels, a commitment shared by Oregon. “California can make a significant contribution to advancing the cause of dealing with climate change,” Gov. Jerry Brown told The New York Times last week, “irrespective of what goes on in (the other) Washington.” Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state is pushing what would be the country’s first carbon tax. Dec. 14, when the Portland city council voted unanimously to ban future fossil fuel terminals in the city, Mayor Charlie Hales called the policy “the first stone in a green wall across the West Coast.”

We’d be willing to build that wall.

Well before Obamacare, Oregon was committed to expanding health care coverage here. Under Gov. John Kitzhaber in the 1990s, the state won federal waivers to expand its enrollment in Medicaid by prioritizing treatments. Under Gov. Ted Kulongoski in the next decade, Oregon managed to cover many more of our children. Repealing Obamacare may be easy – the House of Representatives has already done it about 60 times – but replacing it will be more complicated. Whatever health structure wreckage the country ends up with, Oregon is likely to try to keep its commitments to its own citizens.
Like everybody else, residents of Oregon and the West Coast use the bathroom. Unlike North Carolina, we’ve tried not to make it the center of our politics. We’ve also tried, not always successfully, not to build our politics on our dislike of each other. Oregon and Washington are not nearly as diverse as California, now a minority-majority state, but we’ve been changing rapidly. Washington County, 40 years ago a land of vanilla suburbia, is now the most diverse place in the state, and in east Portland, David Douglas High School distills dozens of languages spoken by its students into a steady statement of success.

Oregon spent the 1990s, and a while afterward, fighting over sexual differences. You couldn’t say we’ve all come to love each other, but we’ve learned the costs of despising each other. In the days to come, that will be an important thing to understand.

As the state motto tells us, Oregon flies with her own wings. In the year to come, in the years to come, the air is likely to be particularly turbulent, and our own wings will likely be our best support.

On the West Coast, as Joan Didion wrote about California, we have to make things work, because this is where we run out of continent.

And we’ve just run out of 2016.

But we haven’t run out of future.

NOTE: This column appeared in The Sunday Oregonian, 1/1/17.